Special Session of General Conference – What Happened?

Thu, February 28, 2019

Special Session of General Conference – What Happened?

I flew home yesterday from the special session of General Conference, ever so glad to be back home in Friendswood. It was a physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausting four days. Thank you for all your prayers and support expressed to me over the past few days.

For a long time now, General Conference has been a contact sport. This General Conference was brutal. As a denomination, the United Methodist Church is anything but united, not just on the question of human sexuality and marriage, but on much deeper theological matters. We are deeply divided theologically as a national church, and that division was not solved in St. Louis, but amplified. The Bishops had hoped that this special session would finally resolve our forty-seven-year division over human sexuality, marriage and ordination standards. I believed that hope was unrealistic at best.

So, what happened at General Conference and what does it mean moving forward?

The One Church Plan, which would have liberalized our official teaching and standards on these matters, was soundly rejected by the Conference. It is not insignificant that a majority of delegates defeated the OCP by a final vote of 449 to 374 (54.6 to 45.4 percent). Nor should it have been surprising, since every previous General Conference rejected a similar approach.

Instead, the General Conference reaffirmed our biblical understanding of human sexuality, marriage and ordination standards. The Traditionalist Plan that retained our current teaching and added enhanced accountability measures was approved, by a final vote of 438 to 384 (53.3 to 46.7 percent). However, because of multiple delay tactics and parliamentarian maneuvers by supporters of the OCP, some accountability provisions could not be corrected on the floor and will be declared unconstitutional by our Judicial Council. The next regular session of General Conference in 2020 will most likely enact corrected accountability standards declared unconstitutional.

For a fuller explanation of the measures adopted, you can read an article by John Lomporis’ HERE.

Another good summary of what happened at General Conference was written by Rev. Chris Ritter HERE. It too is worth a read.

The General Conference also approved a disaffiliation or gracious exit plan for those churches who because of conscience cannot live with what was adopted. However, there are potential constitutional questions about that proposal, and will need to wait to hear what the Judicial Council rules.

Despite what you may have read in news articles or on social media, the United Methodist Church is not kicking anyone out or forcing anyone to leave. The actions of General Conference were not intended to be hateful or hurtful toward anyone. We believe after General Conference as we did before, that all people are of sacred worth to God, deeply loved by Him, and in need of His grace through Jesus Christ. All are welcome to the church, straight or gay.

The General Conference simply reaffirmed what the church has always taught (and what most Christians and churches believe), that Scripture reserves the expression of our sexuality solely within a married relationship between a man and woman. This has been the universal teaching of the Christian faith for the past two-thousand years.

Many progressives were deeply disappointed by the actions of General Conference. They had hoped the church would change its teaching. At the same time, many conservatives were relieved that a plan we believed would force us to leave the church was rejected. It was a brutal, painful and hurtful four days for all involved. No one feels good at what happened in St. Louis. And it is not an experience I look forward to repeating in fourteen months.

I believe we must finally have an honest conversation on the national level of our denomination that perhaps the better way forward is not together, but separate. If we are indeed one church, we need to stop acting like we are two. And if we are in reality two churches, we need to stop pretending we are one. I pray that out of the pain in St. Louis a new vibrant expression (or expressions) of Methodism will emerge.

So, what does all this mean for us here at Friendswood Methodist?

It means that we will continue to do ministry as we have always done. We will continue to preach the good news of Jesus. We will worship, pray and band together in small groups to grow in our discipleship. We will continue to be in mission to our community and beyond.

It means that we will continue to be the church we have always been. It means that our attitude as followers of Jesus Christ will continue to be one of love, welcome and acceptance of all as people of sacred worth to God, regardless of the sexual orientation or gender identity; regardless of race, nationality, national origin, or status. It means we will continue to be welcoming and loving of all people as we share the life-changing power of Jesus Christ, everywhere and every day.

Grace and peace,
Jim